Friday, July 13, 2007

RIAA's Monstrous Legacy

And in the latest RIAA assault on public decency and the pleasures of music, The Justice reported yesterday that two students at Brandeis University are being sued for "illegal" downloading. Thirteen other Brandeis students who were threatened with lawsuits by the RIAA settled on the RIAA's generous "discount" terms - one student said she paid $3000 because the RIAA would accept no less. Students are being sued all over the country, and often agree to pay the RIAA anywhere from $12,000 to $17,000 to stay out of court.

This has been way out of hand for a few years now. The RIAA started suing poverty-level families and now has moved up to college campuses. It is an organization beyond reason and redemption, and within a decade will be a bad memory, but on the way down it is obviously doing a lot of damage.

The music business was never as good as its music. When the RIAA was created in the 1950s, record companies screwed their artists out of their royalties and paid radio stations to play their records (which, though sleazy, is a victimless crime and should have been ignored rather than prosecuted by government officials).

But somewhere along the line - more precisely, when the digital age brought us MP3s, with music pretty much as good as on CDs - the RIAA assumed the role of Grand Inquisitor of copyright. Now its name is synonymous with pain, and probably more hated than the IRS.

But the IRS has no choice. If we have to pay taxes, some government agency has to enforce their collection.

The RIAA does have a choice. It can back off and end this madness. It can accept, whether it likes this or not, that downloading and sharing of music without payment creates buzz, which sooner or later does bring money to artists and record companies.

But the RIAA likely won't change, and can expect its name to be among the monsters that parents talk about in bedtime stories about bad things that happened long ago...
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